Sirkku Ketola: The artistic process of performing Paula

Finnish artist Sirkku Ketola had her performance project A Body Called Paula at the NARS Foundation Gallery in Brooklyn in November. In Finnish the word paula means a ribbon, something to tie or to be enchanted with. It is also a synonym for a trap. Globally Paula is known as a female name, originating from the Greek word ‘Paulus’, which means small.

In her current project of ten years, Ketola creates an installation that mixes screenprinting with performance. Part installation, part performance, A Body Called Paula is a piece that develops over the days of the installation through long-duration printing sessions. The movements and their soundtrack create an enchanting, sensual machine with the main themes of time and temporality, pleasure, and the meditative process of working.

The narrative story behind the performance hunts beauty through the themes of light, passion, knowledge, reality, and depth, finally balanced out by darkness. What is the measure of time? Ornament is a universal form of visual art in every culture. The installation at NARS is part of Sirkku Ketola’s long-term project. For the duration of ten years ‘A Body Called Paula’ produces hand printed ornaments, or ribbons.


Paula prints by Sirkku Ketola.
Paula prints by Sirkku Ketola.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What comes to mind, when you think about your project Paula is that it is so clearly beyond the visual practice, or enhances the physicality of the practice. What is so intriguing is how you dive into the embodiment and stretching of the paper. Is it that the body becomes a continuation of the paper in the printing process, as if being one with the paper? What kind of metaphors would you like to highlight, or are being evoked in the process?

Sirkku Ketola: I guess I need touchable material to support thinking and understanding. In this case the handling of color and paper together with challenging technical crafting, tune us as one organism, where the tempo is being set in the cohesion of the qualities of the all included matters. The strength of the body, the sensitivity of the hands and the exactness of the eyes, are sensing constantly the fragility, stretching, moistening and drying of the paper, and the consistency and volume of the ink. The local, or should I say site-specific humidity and temperature effect strongly to the functioning of this paper/colour/body formed sensual machine. Also the instant substance of the body, the general vitality, the emotional ambiance, and for example the daytime, give all some special marks, first to the performance, and second to the visual appearance of the ribbon in progress. Imprint is different during mornings and evenings, also in the beginnings and the ends of the ribbons. I have chosen the long and fragile paper to be forced to lose control. The process is too tiring to hold on it. During the series of the performance the same paper roll goes by my hands 12 times so it is impossible to dominate the quality or the crossing effects of different layers. I just must be humble, and let the ribbon teach me. Maybe the greatest thing is that the ribbons still surprise me even though I’ve been working with the same materials for years. The major errors have been avoided, but the danger of errors are constantly present – everything can be irreversibly spoiled even in the last round of printing.

Sirkku Ketola performing Paula.
Sirkku Ketola performing Paula in Cable Factory, Helsinki, August 2017.

Sirkku Ketola: The ornament arises on paper in stages from light to darkness. The colours (yellow/magenta/cyan/black), except being common from every home printer symbolize light, passion, knowledge, reality, depth and darkness. Step by step these colour layers, as named the elements of beauty, while mixing and uniting approach the truth, the code of life or would I say the mystery.

The hand printed ornament reminds somehow of the DNA. Basically with the repetition of same patterns, the motif is being affected continuously by the changes of the circumstances. All the variations show together endless amount of visual possibilities and diversity. At the same moment the so-called mistakes come part of the entirety and open up routes for the new beginnings.

Today we talk a lot about unmaterialized art, light and it’s different digitalized reflections. I am blown away by it also, the transfer of energy from one equipment to another accomplishes wonderful outcomes. In my own work process the need of touch, the acception of the tardiness of the body as the part of the thinking self, in other words handling with hands, have so far helped me to the deeper knowledge. I choose to cherish this special bodily tempo – it might be good for human species. When one forces oneself to stop by the slow repetition, one might also have time to understand something essential.

Sirkku Ketola performing Paula in New York, November 2017.
Sirkku Ketola performing Paula in Helsinki, August 2017.

 

Sirkku Ketola: To be able to do the metamorphosis to become a sensual machine I had to create a role. My character Paula is simultaneously enraptured and trapped (in Finnish there is a sentence with both meanings, derived from the word ‘paula’ which also is a ribbon). She is a metaphor of a small human in cosmos. The name Paula comes originally from the Greek name Paulus which means small. So my Paula works with paula, with her special ribbon. Her job is to communicate visually by printing this repeating and overwhelmingly beautiful ornament. She wanders globally and communicates of the seen beauty. The previous place sets the next pattern, for example the New York effects to Paula will be seen next spring in Helsinki, Finland.

The machine is slow and time bending. It is a factory that is able to work without problems approximately four times per year. The doctor’s order has set the limit. I forget the rules always in the beginning of the new project, but now, when the Brooklyn ribbon has been finished, the pain in my hands is there and that makes calming down easy. By respecting this manual of the project, it will be possible to enjoy after ten years from now about the yet unknown massive installation, which is made of these forty different and international printed ornament ribbons.

I feel extremely privileged to be able to define the speed of the assembly line. For that reason the pleasure is an important part of the performance. Paula enjoys her movements and the choreography set by the printing process. The ink flows and the paper glides with the hands accepting to follow the weight of the body. The touch varies from strong to gentle and the rhythm beats with the working steps. The birth of the image feeds the will to come along to the anonymous destination. The possibility for sudden challenges forces the printer into the extreme concentration and to overcome difficulties and accept the errors. With the physicality, the mental part is also reacting all the time to the present. The chosen repetition grows thinking and developes strong pleasure.

Sirkku Ketola: Feedback, 2016. Handprinted silkscreen on wood. 81 x 105 cm. Process picture.
Sirkku Ketola: Feedback, 2016. Handprinted silkscreen on wood. 81 x 105 cm. Process picture.

Firsindindigo&Lifestyle: How do you prepare for the performance of this scale, which is almost a marathon? What is the preparatory phase like, and what happens during the performance aftermath?

Sirkku Ketola: During the performing period I take specially good care of myself. I try to do the outdoor activities daily, sleep enough and eat healthier. I try also to avoid the evening happenings and alcohol. The preparation for the performance takes mentally the whole day, but the most intense are the two hours before the show. The soundtrack of the performance follows me since morning. I’d like to highlight, the sound scape of my music and the noise of the printing table are essential elements of the performance. When arriving to the show space I tend to eat lightly and drink a lot of water. After it is time to check all the technical equipments and to mix the printing inks, the hue and the saturation needs to be done carefully. I have a special ritual order to do this. After this, I isolate myself, warm up and slowly become my transformation to the role. Thirty minutes before the show it is time to change the costume and become Paula. She doesn’t speak. The aftermath of the show is quick, washing the make up and changing the clothes are rapid, so I’m soon ready to communicate with the world again as myself. Before leaving I clean the colours and check all the technical details for the next day. When arriving home I stretch well and take a warm shower, except in Finland my choice is sauna.

Paula performance in Nars foundation Photo Nov 17, 3 38 57 PM
Ketola performing at the NARS Foundation in New York, November 2017.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How is New York as a place different, and this performance venue special, in terms of what is their impact on the quality and outcome of the work? How is the location different from the rest, say, Canada or Finland where you also created this performance piece?

Sirkku Ketola: The place impacts mainly how the performance is being installed. I like different spaces because they challenge the art work and keep it impossible to predict. The space in NARS in Sunset Park in Brooklyn is many ways special. First, it is near the Finntown, where there was a strong community of Finnish emigrants. During today’s new emigrations flow it felt important to mark the difficult roots of my own country. Second, the size of the gallery was perfect for the project. It fit there well, both visually and functionally. Third, the space is in the building, which is full of working artists, situated in the middle of the industrial Brooklyn. Where else should the sensual machine be? I came to New York as a visiting artist-in-residence of Finnish Cultural Institute for two months. My main goal was to research the structures of the money and power in the contemporary art scene. Beyond A Body Called Paula –project I started to sketch the new large-scale print installation referring to this research theme. The work will be produced during next three years. My colleagues in Brooklyn taught me a lot about independent artists’ living at the capital of contemporary art (NYC).

Paula, NARS foundation.
Paula performance, NARS Foundation in New York, November 2017.

The physical dimensions and the quality of the NARS space gave the rhythm for the installation when growing during the performances. The intimate gallery of the Sunset Park made possible to the paper ribbon to take a shape of a visually fine zig zag when it landed to dry to the perches I mounted. Also the rest of the visual elements of the performance found their places to create a dynamic composition. There was space for Paula to move and the audience was able to have several standpoints. The space was also photogenic with A Body Called Paula – and that’s important in our social media time.

This was the fourth time and the fourth place for Paula. In Toronto it was seen in a gallery with the long hallway. There the magic of Paula worked like in the story of the Pied Piper, when people saw the action from far, they just had to reach to the space. In Helsinki Paula measured the huge hall in Cable Factory during the five hours marathon performance. And in Turku, Finland she worked behind the lightened window in the darkness of the first autumn evenings by the riverside. And in Brooklyn she captured the industrial space around the other artists. I believe that during the next ten years, Paula can capture many different structures and spaces as rich as she has done in her first year of the process. The big scale quality will be seen in the end of the whole process. All in all, these places are valuable treasures for me, and will affect the final installation.

 

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Next time A Body Called Paula will be seen in Helsinki in March 2018. After that Sirkku Ketola travels mostly in Central Europe. She will be back in New York City during autumn 2019.

— — —

The screenprints made in New York have been prepared at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop: http://www.efanyc.org
More information:

Introduction: http://sirkkuketola.com
Previous exhibitions: http://www.la-bas.fi/ketolaeng.html

Members Only: Flo Kasearu at the Performa 17

Ernest Hemingway once said, “In every port in the world, at least two Estonians can be found”. This is also true about New York, where more than a few community members share their Estonian House, New Yorgi Eesti Maja. The New York Estonian Educational Society was founded in 1929.  As a great coincidence, and as a brilliant and thoughtful part of the Performa 17 biennial, which took place from November 1 to 19, Estonian artist Flo Kasearu created a nostalgic ode to this members’ club house. Her site-specific performance tour guided groups through different rooms of the house. Her artist-led tour highlighted the very house’s past, changing its authentic traditional feeling into an updated stage, in which the local members themselves took part in the performing. All staged and directed by Flo Kasearu.

Kasearu runs also an artmuseum in her native Estonia. In Tallinn, visitors can book special guided tours in the Flo Kasearu House Museum. The historic wooden house belonged to the artist’s family from the time of its construction.

Flo Kasearu's House in the family history pictures.
Flo Kasearu’s House in Tallinn in the family history pictures as shown in the New York Estonian House performance, Performa 17.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your great great-grandmother was building the house in which you live now in Tallinn. How did that heritage inspire you to pick up the idea of bringing performative component of your family house to New York Estonian House?

Flo Kasearu: Both of my great great grandparents built the house. (I just have a photo of my great grandmother, so I mentioned her in the tour).

While living there since 2009, and getting involved with so many domesticity issues and problems of living in an over 100-year-old house, many ideas have grown out of the problems. I like to solve my problems through artistic practice, turning them into objective artworks. So I established a Flo Kasearu House Museum in the house, which is open by appointment only. I do guided tours to visitors through the house and its garden. Otherwise it would be difficult to find artworks from the middle of my everyday things.

The house tour is a sight-specific art project, and as such it’s difficult to transport it elsewhere. I can partly exhibit the tour, or works from it somewhere else.

Flo Kasearu_installation view at the Estonian House.
Flo Kasearu, Installation view at the Estonian House, staged in the social room ‘potatoes as billiards’, Performa 17.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How long ago was it when your family built the house, and how did Tallinn preserve its old buildings during the times of the Soviet Union?

FK: The house was built in 1911 and my museum and the tours started in 2013.

During the Soviet era, most of the private property was nationalised and belonged to the state. After 1991, 20 year-long restitution started taking place, during which the property was given back to successors of original lawful owners. Houses that belonged to the city were taken care by the renters. City of Tallinn, for example, did not put any money into renovating them. During the restitution process houses were in a legal loophole in terms of their ownership, and thus were not dealt with by the renters, as they thought that any original lawful owners could come back and take the houses over.

Flo Kasearu Performa-project at Estonian House.
Performer doing kissing sound experiments at the Flo Kasearu tour in the New York Estonian House.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you end up doing a similar kind of tour in New York at the Estonia house as part of Performa 17?

FK: Just the method of being a tour guide is the same anywhere, and talking about the history of my museum house is also the same. But otherwise it is a very different project.

‘The Members Only tour’ (Performa 2017 project), is a sight-specific work for New York Estonian House and its community. As I am not a big performer, I did not want to perform it on stage. So doing the guided tour seemed a logical method. The work also included the community members participating in the performance. Guiding people to go through the house, and then becoming like a tour guide in a museum which New York Estonian House is in a way. Everything in the house looks so authentic to its original times and everything is based on old traditions and rituals.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you feel that NYC local community members joined your project easily? From an audience member viewpoint everything seemed going smoothly and appeared well rehearsed.

FK: I took the time to talk with them, listen their stories, so then it was not too difficult to convince them to join. I got recommendations from one member to talk to another member, and then it developed on until I had enough members to invite. I had two ladies cancelling in a last-minute, for example an older lady’s husband got so sick that she had to take care of him and she could not join in the end. But luckily I had also backup members in mind.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You’re a multidisciplinary artist in the true sense. Did performance enter into your working methodology from the very start of your practice?

FK: I started doing video-performances while I was an exchange student in UDK, Berlin. I was in Rebecca Horn studio, a performance and installation artist, and she told me that there is no point for me to paint for her, as she doesn’t know much to comment on painting. I started doing video-performances, relating myself and my Eastern European identity with this new city and new space. So from that time I have been doing performances once in a while.

Flo Kasearu_drawing, 2014.
Flo Kasearu, drawing, 2014. Estonian House staircase presented drawings of the artist. Her fears of what could possibly happen to the house.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In New York City, the visual components in ‘The Members Only’ tour were really stretching the context of the Estonian House in a unique way. How did the imagination for the ‘sets’ evolve?

FK: They are a combination of ideas that evolve from speaking with people and wanting to bring them and their stories to this very abstract and minimal level. And mixing them with some of my older haunting ideas. It is very sight-specific. And I wanted to bring also humour and irony level in, as I felt this is really lacking in this house.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Now thinking also how the music room was evolving, with the grand piano in it. In your tour, you mentioned that behind the doors there is a choir practice going on, but the scene was so surprising?

FK: My point was not to repeat the same things that are happening in the house otherwise regularly. I went to see the choir rehearsal happening there, and I noticed the choir teacher who is such a strong character putting also chairs. So I wanted to highlight the choir teacher and show her alone. I have had this kissing-ticking sound long time haunting in my head and I thought to display this in the room as it is kind of abstraction from the emotions that I felt in the choir rehearsal.

For example, in the choir singing room, instead of singing patriotic songs, the notes are made of this kissing-ticking, which has similar emotion and a character being nostalgic, but abstracted. And then the humor comes in, with over-reacting with this kissing note, and this way it’s also more open to interpretation.

Flo Kasearu_the music room at the Estonian House.
Flo Kasearu, The choir room transformed into an installation with kissing-ticking sounds at the Estonian House, Performa 17.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Going back to Estonia. How would you describe the Estonian contemporary art scene today?

FK: Its tiny but rather interesting. Some years ago art used to be dealing more with the social and political problems, now it is much more in its comfort zone. Although the fees in Estonian art are still quite minimal. The younger generation is more similar to Western formalistic approach, seems to me.

 

Guided Tour of Flo Kasearu House Museum (compilation of excerpts) from Flo Kasearu on Vimeo.

***

Artist website: http://www.flokasearu.eu/

 

Dance meets art at Loretta Howard Gallery

Yvonne Rainer’s work Trio A (1966), is one of the most enchanting dance pieces of dance history that paved the way to contemporary and postmodern dance practices. It is an interesting choreographic work, not least because it is exhilarating from pure performance and performer points of view. How many times do contemporary performers get immersed in new projects, where choreographers and directors inquire effortless, non-virtuous task-oriented movements and behavior to use them as backbones for their pieces. This in fact is not so easy to accomplish at all. As what performer goes through is not so much about ‘performing’ from a merely audience seduction point of view, but follows more a neutral way of not-doing too much. This might sound complicated, but makes all sense when in dance the performers start tapping the space, letting their bodies organize the way through the space. The inheritance of this type of movement in dance, a meticulous way of appearing happens sometimes simultaneously in conjunction to things and objects. In sculptural and spatial terms, the dancer is like a living and moving human sculpture. But more than that, the art of dancing in this case is shaped also around imaginary objects, or spatial lines that cut through the architecture of space. In Trio A, it seems that the space and objects were a great source of inspiration for Rainer, acting as inner elements, and shaping the movement sequences. There are, of course, noticeable tricky movements and balancing included in the work, even when the dancer (herself in the original Trio A, which was part of a larger work The Mind Is a Muscle) would not make a full sequence of complicated turns, for example. In 1966, Trio A changed the dance scene by examining the possibilities of human movement. Rainer had learned from Merce Cunningham and John Cage to have different approach to the her audience or spectators in general. She also started to experiment with film using the same methods as in choreography.

When watching the composition of Trio A evolve on the video, it comes to mind that perhaps the biggest challenge is to maintain a calm steady movement flow. The work became a classic not only because it still makes powerful statements of what a composition and a performance is about; but stating a strong performer making the composition. It changed so much in the Western dance history.

Dance does not always get noticed among contemporary art forms, or is quite rarely placed in the art history like visual arts. When it appears to be paired together with and being a component of the visual arts as a performance art, or in conjunction of musical composition, it gets a different approach. The so-called post-modern dance era brought in new curiosities in terms of artistic collaborations that stretched beyond boundaries of different art forms and genres.

Loretta Howard Gallery opens on September 10 with a new exhibition entitled “Where Sculpture and Dance Meet: Minimalism from 1961 to 1979.” The gallery curates annually an historical exhibition, and this truly interesting archival exploration showcases videos of historic performances and sculptures associated with minimalism both in art and dance. The exhibit is timely as it is doing homage to ideas that are still in a dialogue setting current trends in visual arts and performance. The exhibition shows that choreographers and sculptors, for instance, used methods of composition that were known as subjective. Yvonne Rainer belongs to these artists who brought minimalism to dance. She did not eventually wish to include her Trio A showing into the gallery exhibition, but her historic rehearsal recording from Conneticut with a group of performers works as a good intro to her style.

In the exhibit, there is also a video of sculptor Robert Morris’ work,  in which a masked male performer performs with a sculpture created by Morris. In the 1960s, he built his early sculptures in Yoko Ono’s loft that also involved unique performance elements. Choreographer Simone Forti’s archival video of her piece Slantboard (1961), is an important addition to the exhibition. The work includes a platform in its center for performers to attach to and play with. The exhibit culminates around a piece Dance created by Lucinda Childs (original from 1979). The video is a double performance in a sense that Childs’ company performs in the background video when the Dance is recreated for stage. The choreography gathers an architectural sculpture from Sol LeWitt around it. Childs collaborated with the artist in set designs, and used music from composer Philip Glass.

Andy Warhol’s installation of helium filled pillows, Silver Clouds, adds an interesting story to the exhibition. Warhol created the pillows which then functioned as a set in Merce Cunningham’s dance work Rainforest (1968). Performers in this choreography encountered the clouds when they were floating across the stage. Cunningham often explored dancers and objects to create ‘random’ encounters, so it is great that the exhibition’s shows a performance video and the sets in the gallery space to make the central point come across.

In addition to the artists and collaborations mentioned, Loretta Howard Gallery displays Trisha Brown’s video Group Primary Accumulation (1973) as part of this archival display. The choreography explored altered understanding of the beauty and power with simple repetitive movements. Brown used principles of mathematics, modularity and repetition when composing the dance. Next to this video, there are minimalistic sculptures on the walls from Donald Judd, who created designs for some of Brown’s choreography. Then, a strong sculptural work is on display from Ronald Bladen.

The exhibition “Where Sculpture and Dance Meet: Minimalism from 1961 to 1979”, is curated by Wendy Perron, who is the author of “Through the Eyes of a Dancer” and former editor in chief of Dance Magazine. It is co-curated by Julie Martin, who is an independent scholar and currently Director of Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT). The exhibit is on display from September 10 until October 31st, 2015 at Loretta Howard Gallery, 525-531 West 26th Street, New York.

 

 

Many talents of Artist-Professor Pirjo Yli-Maunula

In June 2010, Finnish dancer and choreographer Pirjo Yli-Maunula was one of the four dancers to travel up the Muonio and Torne Rivers in Finnish Lapland. Their living and dancing installation River Woman was built on a ferry consisting of plastic bottles (about 25 000 plastic bottles were used to build a diameter of ten meters ferry, which operated a gliding dance-installation on a stage across the Muonio and Torne Rivers). Pirjo Yli-Maunula (being the main incubator of the project), dancer-choreographer Reijo Kela, and dancers Catherine and Anne Angeria were on a three-week river trip from Karesuvanto to Tornio performing to the audiences on the way. This dancing ferry is a kind of project that Pirjo Yli-Maunula would create, telling about how we are close to nature, and the nature is a stage for everything we do. Her performance projects – often taking place in the Northern Finland – have involved local audiences to participate and collaborate in mesmerizing ways.

Reijo Kela dances with Jokinainen
(Pirjo Yli-Maunula dances as Jokinainen/River Woman with dancer Reijo Kela on shore)

FI: What are you doing these days, you have quite a long career as an established choreographer and festival leader?

Pirjo: I am busy with many things: I am working as a choreographer and a dancer, artistic director, curator and a producer.

At the moment I am in the middle of creating a new duet with French choreographer-dancer William Petit. We are currently in Italy sharing a residency in Matera. We will have the premiere of ”Scars” in the beginning of November in Oulu in Northern Finland.

Then, this year our company Flow Productions started to arrange a series of visiting contemporary circus performances in Oulu. I have been busy curating, producing and arranging this series. I am hoping that we can continue with the series next year as well.

I just started to work again as the artistic director of Full Moon festival. I was in the job in 2004-2006. My current contract is for 2014-16.

FI: You went to Cardiff couple of weeks ago, was this your first time in the festival?

Pirjo: Yes, this was my first time in World Stage Design – festival. The week was intense, very interesting and great experience as a whole.

FI: It seems that your international networking abilities are tremendous, you have been able to attract visitors to come to Finland, where did you learn these skills?

Pirjo: I have learnt through the work itself. My different jobs have helpt me to build up the network. It is great to jump from the position of an artist to the position of a artistic director or funder or producer. Those different points of view help me to understand the bigger picture of the art world.

FI: How multidisciplinary are you as an artist, what are your modes and styles of working?

Pirjo: I am very much interested in working collaboratively with artists from different art forms. I have worked with artists in the fields of video, music, photography, new circus, theater, literature, games, new media, as well as costume, light and sound design.

Every production and process is different: I have created not just contemporary dance pieces on stage but also dance-installations, site-specific works, dancevideo or works that could be considered as live art.

I strive to create complete, meticulous works of art which nevertheless build upon improvisation and spur-of-the-moment insight.

FI: What did you gain by attending WSD2013 in Cardiff?

Pirjo: I was inspired by many things in the exhibition, meeting of other artists, and the overall exciting atmosphere of the festival.

FI: Who are the people that influence you the most?

Pirjo: I feel that the other artists that have worked with me have influenced me the most. As I am often also producing or co-producing my own work I am lucky to be able to build dream teams, where I can learn and get inspired by others.

FI: Where do you see yourself in the future, what dreams do you hold within you?

Pirjo: I would love to spend time in longer residencies and tour abroad more. I have quite an extensive repertoire that I believe would be interesting. For instance our multidisciplinary creation Susurro, that I also performed in Cardiff, would be a perfect piece to show for instance in Japan or South-Korea. I would like to tour in South American countries as well.

FI: Name your most important collaborations, and why?

Pirjo: I could talk about a number of different people and various different works. But if I would be allowed to mention just a couple I would definitely talk about French choreographer William Petit and Finnish light designer Jukka Huitila as I have worked with them so much.

I have known William since 2004. I have danced in his work and we have co-created pieces together. The intimacy, authenticity and bravery that we have found while dancing together has been very important to me. That has had an impact to my other work as well.

The collaboration with Jukka Huitila has also been vitally important to me. His sensitivity, openness, generosity, intelligence and creativity are superb. His input seems to always deepen the work. The trust that we have in each other has helped me to grow as a person and as an artist.

From the collaborative pieces that I have done I am maybe most happy about these two: Karsikko and Susurro. They have both been an adventure to something completely new as a form of art.

Susurro
(Pirjo Yli-Maunula in Susurro)

 

Susurro

FI: Last but not least, how does Finnish landscape help in creating your works, what would you like to say about our climate, the landscape, Northerness, Lapland and the nature?

Pirjo: Many of my pieces reflect my relationship with the natural environment, as well as natural phenomena and seasons of the Northern landscape. For instance my work Karsikko (co-created with dancer-choreographer Titta Court) is based on a tree and animal characters, and it derives from nature´s materials and soundscapes.

LINKS:
Pirjo Yli-Maunula showreel: https://vimeo.com/73019936
Susurro trailer: https://vimeo.com/65130595
Karsikko trailer: https://vimeo.com/35430024

www.flowprod.fi
http://www.fullmoondance.fi/
https://www.facebook.com/pirjo.ylimaunula
https://twitter.com/PirjoYlimaunula

Sam Kim: on choreography, residencies and intuition

What kinds of projects have you been working on recently?
 
I began a new work during a residency at The MacDowell Colony (Peterborough, New Hampshire) last fall.  I just started creating content loosely, on my own body, without any set parameters.  I found that I was still thinking a lot about a piece I made in 2007, “Cult,” a duet for myself and another woman, that still had a lot to offer.  I never want to name the “aboutness” of a dance because I don’t believe that’s what the form has to offer, but there is something about a fucked-up relationship between two women who have a relationship that’s too intimate, in that work.  I wanted to return to that land because I knew there was more to mine. 

I knew I didn’t want to make a solo, so I held an audition to find performers.  This was a strange move for me, if only evident to myself.  I think it’s not the downtown dance way of doing things, but I was really interested in seeing how the field had changed, in finding some gems without established reputations.  I was interested in being very dry and pragmatic with that part of the process.

Next came a residency in the spring at Baryshnikov Arts Center (BAC), which was a compact and intense work period with the three women I hired.  So, whatever I had started conceptually at MacDowell had snapped to in the form of a trio.  I’ve taken note that the way I work with myself is utterly divorced from the way I work with other performers, so in that sense, there’s still this other battery of ‘stuff’ that I’m only comfortable putting on myself for now.  I’m not sure where that material goes just yet.
 
Two weeks after the BAC residency I flew out to the Bay Area to be in residence at Djerassi Djerassi is situated on a mountain on a former cattle ranch in the Bay Area, though incredibly secluded and remote.  It seduces you into thinking you have the world to yourself.  That was conducive to making my art.
 
I was alone again so I continued to make material intuitively, working with a discrete set of objects as content instigators:  bed, mirrors, wine glasses and nylons (on legs and to cover the face) to build the choreography.  I responded to these objects as talismans as I moved through an improvisational score based on incanting.
 
What do you say about the themes you have been working on during the past year? 
 
I’m finally acknowledging to myself that I am fundamentally interested in women: women’s bodies in the form of dance.  Women are mysterious to me, maybe at their most compelling in relationship to each other.  I’m just drawn to strange and powerful and frightening relationships between women.  There are a slew of films that come to mind as touchstones in their treatments of strange relationships between women: “3 Women,” “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant,” Breillat’s “Bluebeard,” “Mulholland Drive.”
 
I’m also drawn to the nature of ritual–what it means to enact certain rites, to supplicate, to reveal something intimate that’s not intended for anyone else’s eyes. 
 
You are a conceptual choreographer, how did your thinking shift, in relation to your artistic development, how about your identity?
 
I’ve always understood, fundamentally, for me, that dances hang on form.  But as I grow older and my eye gets sharper, I actually put that more and more into practice as opposed to getting hung up on any specific content, or getting really militant about execution.  It’s all about proportion with the fundamental elements of choreography:  time, space and bodies.  And how I organize these things with and against one another, undermine the content, etc.  I value ideas first and foremost, and then rigor in the execution of those ideas.  I am not engaged with issues about idealized and beautiful bodies in dance.
 
Name your most important influences in the dance field?  How about other influences, and mentors?
 
When I was 19 or 20 I saw Pina Bausch’s work for the first time at BAM.  Not to sound overly dramatic, but it changed my life.  My sense of what was possible in dance and art just exploded in magnitude.  Merce CunninghamRoseAnne SpradlinTere O’Connor.  Visual art, fashion, music, literature.  Always film.
 
I don’t know if I rely so heavily on what I see in dance.  What seems to be more instructive and inspiring for me is to see how artists in other forms solve problems relative to their forms.

 

What visions do you have for the future, how do you see other activities (your board work and writing) in relation to your choreographic practice?
 
I am continuing to work on this new trio within the framework of two additional residencies in NYC (I’m not at liberty to say what they are at this time) that will take place over the next two years.  They are completely process-oriented, however, there will be showings.
 
As much as I resist it, writing about what I’m doing can help clarify to myself what I’m doing.  I can actually learn something.  Writing about making dances tortures me, but I secretly enjoy the torture, too, because it is a concomitant, compositional act to choreographing.  You organize information and you try to make the best choices to express what you want.  It makes me a better thinker, and hence, a better artist.
 
I’m no longer on the board of DTW since it’s now NYLA and a completely different organization altogether.  I’ve never had a feel for any kind of activity that can become the least bit bureaucratic.  I can be an insanely stubborn purist, so what feeds my choreography is entirely separate from any organizational activity.
 
Do you want to say something about the NYC dance scene?

It’s getting interesting.
 

Artist Interview: Choreographer Simo Kellokumpu

Sightseeing is a performative proposal to deconstruct an archetypal figure of tourism through a site specific procedure. It’s about shifting from sightseeing to siteseeing and what this involves in terms of spacialization and temporality of the seeing that can trigger a sight specific experience. (Simo Kellokumpu & Vincent Roumagnac) . Sightseeing is a Dance Film directed by Simo Kellokumpu and Vincent Roumagnac (FRA/FIN 2012, 28 min). The film will be part of the LOIKKA DANCE FILM-FESTIVAL next week in Helsinki.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you choose dance and choreography?

SK: I’m not sure if it is about choosing in my case –  I find it more like a development of perception within the conditions where I have lived. I have realized that choreography is something I have always been interested in, but I didn’t have a word for it before getting to know dance. As dance and choreography are two different media, what interests me now as a choreographer in choreography is to consider it as a form of (an artistic) practice, which articulates, shifts and opens social, temporal, spatial and material contextual circumstances. To think and practice choreography is to be in the movement all the time. When I auditioned for the Theater Academy (TeaK) in Helsinki, I already knew that I wanted to study choreography. They asked me in the final interview about the relation between a dance technique and choreography. Now after more than 10 years later, I still remember it as an important question in a way that I was confident that the choreography as a medium is the right one for me. We had 3 years BA-studies together and after these years there was another audition to the department of choreography. The audition again was an uneasy experience, but I’m very happy that I had the chance to study there 2 more years in that department.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What does interdisciplinarity mean to you as choreographer?

SK: In practice it’s now about the dialogue between me and my collaborator a French artist Vincent Roumagnac whose roots are in theater and in visual arts. Also, it is about the question how to shift and echo the choreographic process into another medium/and vice versa. In this way, I would prefer to use the term intermediality than interdisciplinarity, because it is about what is at stake ”in between” the different media we use. For example, I think that artists like Bruce Nauman or JulieMehretu have a lot to give for a choreographic process. The history of contemporary performance, the body – and the visual arts is full of makers into whose works I can relate to with my choreographical references. At the moment, I am interested in, what kind of aesthetic forms comes out from the artistic process, whichcombines contextual choreography and the economical and philosophical principles of degrowth. I don’t have any ”artistic ideas”, but I am rubbing the notion of choreography with other contexts, media and circumstances, and speculate on the resulting inter-forms.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Tell me about the project in Iceland, who did participate in it, and what did you do with the landscape?

SK: I was invited to an international Aeringur contemporary art festival (in Rif 2012) with Roumagnac. The festival invited artists 10 days before the opening to work on the specificity of the site where the festival took place. We decided to work by the volcano/glacier Snaefjellsjökull with the notion of Sightseeing (and playing with homophonic site-seeing…). We aimed to play with these notions from the critical point of view meaning, asking how mass tourism usually consumes landscapes. Therefore, we wished to ask, what logical system of perception does it enclose that the spectator-tourist him/herself imposes an arbitrary framing of the landscape (the cliché). We worked on the deconstruction of this logic of seeing and experiencing the site by embodying (the body of the viewer) and re-framing (the framing of the landscape). So, having alternative forms of perceptual experience of the specificity that is usually attached to the nature-tourism site. We filmed a video of 30-minutes including me + the local people and participants at the Aeringur art festival. We also made an installation for the opening of the festival.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You live in Berlin, how is that now different from Helsinki, or Finnish dance and art scene?

SK: One of the main reasons to move my base to Berlin was to concentrate on the development of choreographic practice in a vibrant international context. I always thought that I would move to Brussels or Paris, because I’ve studied french for 5 years. But I found in Berlin a lot ofinteresting contemporary art, and colleagues in the same position, so I decided to stay – typical storyfor an artist, I guess.

When I went to Berlin in 2008, I was in the middle of a serious professional crisis. I was thinking to change the profession because this crisis had been going on already maybe a year or so in Finland, even if I had possibilities to work. I thought to quit practicing/making choreography. But what eventually happened to me was through questioning the logic, aesthetics and social and material conditions of the production-making, where I had been in Finland. I found some possibilities to realize workswhere choreographic thinking is processed out to, or with, the spectator without being subjected to the logic of a dance-piece or production, which is rehearsed and produced to be performed always the same way, no matter what is the context. I think there’s enough productions in the (art)world already. I try to find ways of making art and the living, which escapes this economic logic of the art-market – it’s a tricky equation to solve but I think it’s necessary.

In Berlin, I also took time to study, what has happened within western contemporary choreography in the last 15 years. I dove into the contemporary arts and understood many crucial things for my professionalcrisis. Berlin was a perfect place to be for this kind of professional process. I think themajority of the art-scene is in Berlin for other reasons than ”making a career” – I think it’s a place for developing your artistic practice. Stimulating art-city it is.

It’s been at the same time relieving and challenging to step out from the safe small scene into the total anonymity where no one knows who you are, and where you have no artistic institutional support at all. To step out from the familiar, expected and recognizable logic of working and presenting works, you inevitably bump into unexpected and unknown landscapes in many ways. It was right thing for me to do – to change the location doesn’t necessarily bring you something more, it can also be the movement, which prunes and clears out.

The main differences with Finland are quite simple. Finland is quite homogeneous and the art-scene is small. Of course one of the reasons for this is the geographical position, which already positions artists in a certain way, I mean there’s not that much people going to Finland especially.Finnish choreographers are not yet well-known in the Mid-European scene. I’m happy to see that there are some interesting younger generation choreographers like for example Anna Mustonen on their way. I am confident that they start to appear in critical European contemporary stages and venues as well, if they want to participate into the logic of touring with works.

In Berlin, there are artists from all over, and it seems to be in constant movement.  It is questioning already things in practice, which haven’t been spreading out yet. Different ways and disciplines of making are mixed, and as a spectator you have a good possibility to experience diverse vital critical art-scene, which challenges your thinking, perception and position. Berlin is poor, and the venues do not support artists the same way than in Finland, but it is a place, where people want to come to show their work even if also the audience is very demanding – in Finland the audience is very polite, and the discourse between the audience and the artist is completely different.

In Finland, we are not used to talk about art that much. In Berlin it’s common that the spectator has critical questions about the work. Aesthetic talk is an aesthetic talk in Berlin, whereas in Finland I have experienced it more like a personal talk, which is connected to the romantic idea of an inspired artist who expresses him/herself. The tradition of dance and choreography is longer and thicker in Berlin and in Germany – Finland is a young country and the position of a contemporary choreographer is hardly to be taken seriously, or the position of an artist in general. But it’s hard everywhere for artists I guess, especially in these neoconservative political times. What I find meaningful in Berlin, is the history of a place where artists have been stretching, breaking, testing and questioning the ways of making and presenting art. Also this affects to the Berlin’s position as a vibrant, substantial and horizontal art-capital.

In last 1,5 years, I have been more active again towards the ”scene” and been meeting more people. I have even learned to say no to the proposed possibilities also in Berlin. I’m interested in working with Finnish performers, because I think they are good in the way that they are grounded and down to earth. For the moment, I’m happy to be working in a light collaborative structure, but if there’s a working group included, I’d like to bring the group to Berlin and present the work then in Finland. This way there’s automatically cultural exchange, and stimulation happening to many directions. I am planning now together with a Finnish Berlin-based director Mikko Roiha to create a platform or stage for Finnish performing arts in Berlin. We are working on to find the ways now, and looking for collaborators from Finland and Berlin to get this project going to be able to offer one possibility for Finnish artists to present their work in Berlin.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you understand dance technique? What is a Kellokumpu dance technique?

SK: I think of it as a certain neuromuscular organizational system, what you can study and learn to embody. Nowadays, I have moved on from thinking dance-technique(s) as something necessary for the choreography. I mean, I am interested in finding the ways to understand, how a subject, we call a ”dance technique”, is used and connected to the broader social, aesthetic or historical context. For me as a choreographer, it is necessary to understand these connections more than having a ”dance-technique” – I find it problematic if a choreographer finds his/hers dance technique and sticks only to that without questioning its broader social, historical or aesthetic dimensions. Usually, I have worked with the dancers who have a broad understanding and physical potential. I find (Forsythe’s, if I remember correct) thought about dancer’s body as a body of a monster intriguing. I have certain elements and tasks to combine when it comes to the idea of the movement-texture. But like I said, I’m thinking about choreography nowadays as a medium, which doesn’t necessary need a body to be processed and presented. I am interested in working with the notion of choreography and its possibilities; dancers and dance-techniques can be part of it or not.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: So, what are your greatest influences?

SK: In 2010, we (with Roumagnac) created a solo-work for me which included a staging of my choreographic mothers and fathers so to speak. From Finland, there were Ervi Sirèn and Tarja Rinne. And then, Merce Cunningham and William Forsythe were on stage with me in this work (not physically present, note). I am still aware that these names are important for me when it comes to the personal history of dance and choreography. Like many, I am interested in the 1960’slegacy in the western contemporary arts. To name a few, Judson Dance Theater, Situationists, Minimalists, Arte Povera-, Fluxus-artists and then choreographers like Cunningham, Lucinda Childs, Forsythe and Jérôme Bel are the sources of my inspiration. Of course, my position is nowadays to have a critical point of view to my genealogy as well, and to look ahead by following what is happening in the development of the choreography.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What did you learn while you were spending some time in New York?

SK: I spent only one month in New York and it was the first time for me there. I mainly wanted to go after Merce’s (Cunningham) footsteps a bit, so to speak. So I took some classes in Cunningham Studios and visited museums and galleries, got to see performances etc. The trip was part of the project of mine what I processed with Roumagnac who was in Paris at that time, it was a continuation for our one month work-trip to Beijing. In New York, I thought a lot about the relevance of being aware about the history and the line(s) where you belong into. I found it significant. I even bought a blue unitard.

-Check the LOIKKA DANCE FILM-FESTIVAL calendar here.

-Artist’s website: http://kellokumpu.wordpress.com/2010/09/21/11/

Marron Atrium in MoMA shaked with performance

{Artwork hanging on the wall of Marron Atrium during Sarah Michelson’s choreography “Devotion, study #3”}

Atrium is to be violated, says one of the choreographers. There is nothing there, and the museum space with its white walls is so institutional. Does the empty atrium distance the museum’s audience? It is often showing the architectural without art. But it can be the performance space for all kinds of works.

Some sweet day was a three-week (October 15-November 4, 2012) program of dance performances by contemporary choreographers in the MoMA’s Marron Atrium. New York’s Museum of Modern Art was showing works from several mature choreographers, who gained international status, and who experiment with concepts, performance art and contemporary art. American experimental choreographer Dean Moss has worked together with visual artist Laylah Ali. Their work “Voluntaries”, which explores the legacy of John Brown, was performed during the first week. The Judson Theater founding members Steve Paxton and Deborah Hay were invited as pioneers of performance. Presenting for Paxton, who included two of his works from 1960s, in art museums is not a big deal. However, it can be different for contemporary choreographers like Jérôme Bel. The French choreographer described in the October 20 panel discussion how his work “The Show Must Go On(2001) might encounter the museum space. 

The piece has been made for theater so I was very surprised to perform it in the museum. People who come here, come more to see Picasso, and don’t even know that I’m here, so the work is experimental. You have to be generous, as there are people who don’t come to see ‘you’. Then, in the theater the audience is in the darkness, and here you see them.

inka
{Audience arrives into Marron Atrium half an hour before the performance. The space gets very crowded few minutes after. photos:firstindigo&lifestyle}

Deborah Hay told in the discussion held on November 3rd that for her the audience is the ‘unknown’. With the dancers, she explores the potentiality. The dancers are returning to the body. Hay encourages them to stay with the ‘question’. She finds the language and its linearity fascinating.

– I use the linearity to create non-linearity for the individual who performs my work.

British choreographer Sarah Michelson described in the same conversation, that museum space evoked new ideas. She had to close the main staircase from the audience to keep the space clear. She chose to use security guards, who were used as brief part of the piece. They brought in the dancer into the atrium, as well as escorted her out. This association created humor, and linked the dance performance into other parts of the museum.

inka
{Dancers Nicole Mannarino and James Tyson performing Sarah Michelson’s “Devotion, Study #3”. The choreographer herself as DJ during the performance, (below)}

http://www.moma.org

 

 

Minna Tervamäki and a new contemporary ballet

Minna Tervamäki, a former principal dancer from the Finnish National Ballet, is heading to a full-fledged freelance career as a choreographer and producer. This dancer étoile discusses about her current work as a multiple entrepreneur in the field of contemporary ballet. Her new premiere together with Compañía Kaari Martin and Kare Länsivuori opens at the Savoy Theatre in Helsinki on October 17, 2012.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The idea for interviewing you goes back to 2005, when you were rehearsing for your choreographic premiere “Something Else?”. This work was designed for three women dancers yourself including. You received very positive response when you hosted and produced your own evening presenting different choreographers. Would you describe how that influenced your later decisions to pursue your own productions?

Minna: That was a turning moment. I had been sketching to my desk drawer (metaphorically) for years, but I lacked the courage, which was needed to do it. All of a sudden, I just decided to take a full dance evening into production by myself, literally producing it too. Now, after I have more experience I’m only wondering how could I do it then, where did I get the courage after all to take care of the big production without previous experience. Then again, that is what usually happens, we grow together with our task, with the projects. And I had an amazing group of people to work with me who were so helpful. I had also decided that I wanted to express my artistic view to include the lobby of the Opera House. The Alminsali stage cafe and lobby were designed with certain colors and with candles. During intermission there was a saxophone player tuning, and on the walls we had an exhibition of the photography that displayed the performance works. The entire evening was carefully thought through. What I had in mind was to include women dancers and artists, who were strong and charismatic.

I feel that everything I have done; doing choreography, directing and so forth, has so greatly influenced my own dancing, it has been a positive experience. It has helped me to get oriented to other kinds of processes in my life. Right now, I look at the new productions as a whole, not just from my own perspective. Every work has given me ingredients for my own choreography and direction.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: At the moment you are preparing for a new premiere, which opens in Helsinki on October 17. What are you staging for the evening?

Minna: This evening will be my second collaboration with the Finnish flamenco company Compañía Kaari Martin. It is an evening by Tervamäki-Martin. Kaari will be dancing her amazing contemporary flamenco solo “Korppi ja kello” (“The Raven”). I will include first, my solo “SE2”, which is based on the idea that was born in 2005. “SE2” means “Something Else 2”, so the idea has developed further from the piece that I originally created.  What remains the same each time as a main theme of my solo, is that I use my huge and massive skirt structure as part of the dance. The skirt is a design made of an iron and crinoline, and it influences the movement, and how my body appears on the stage.

Janne Mikkilä
{Kaari Martin, Minna Tervamäki and Kare Länsivuori in their new premiere. Photo: Janne Mikkilä}

The main program of our evening is my new duet that I composed for myself and ballet dancer Kare Länsivuori. The duet is called “Koti/Home”. Our three works will premiere together at the Savoy theatre in Helsinki on October 17, 2012. In March 2013, I will premiere a new work called “Yksiö/Studio”, which is a continuation of the theme introduced in “Koti/Home”. It will be performed at the Aleksander Theatre in Helsinki.

The themes in my current projects Koti/Home and Yksiö/Studio are about building structures of our lives.  The works question how can we do this together and alone?  How do we define ourselves in our relationships, and are we alone? What is the role of the community in all of this? The everyday life skips over the sometimes rough and edgy parts.  These issues are also hidden behind the facades. In my mind, our society is too individualistic, and it leaves us alone too often with our struggles and questions.

My colleague Kare Länsivuori and I both want to create works that are touching the lives of our own generation and our age groups. We want to invite new, younger adult audiences to view the contemporary ballet, which has timely and challenging topics, and great storytelling. Then we use diverse venues for these performances.

Koti/Home is investigating an important topic of what it means to be in a relationship, and what constructs the every-day life in it. The duet between Minna Tervamäki and Kare Länsivuori builds up characters, who are mimicking the contemporary life. It also questions how to keep up the facade that we have to built to protect our private lives.  Like each of us today, professionals that have high public pressure lives need to built facades to protect their private life.  When changes happen, what is evident is that one survives when life is not structured around the success only.

“Yksiö/Studio” will handle a theme of modern loneliness, and the division between the private and the public. The work investigates the life in the city, where the neighbors are physically near each other, and yet people are often total strangers to each other. There is an unwritten law that people do not interfere in each others’ lives, and will stay more or less distant. The set-design in the choreography will include two apartments, and the stage will be divided into two spatial areas. There will be a wall between these areas: audience sees this contrast between the two dwellers, two dancers, each in their own apartment. However, the dancers don’t see each other.  Also the dancers will be improvising some of the material, which is adding an comical element for the work.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I am so thrilled by your collaboration with the Compañía Kaari Martin. Tell me about this collaboration, how do ballet and your dancing meet flamenco and its movements? It sounds truly innovative, and I believe it is not really performed much in the world?

Minna: Yes, Kaari is a representative of a contemporary flamenco. And I am thinking about the contemporary ballet from the similar point of view.  I think that our techniques are based on our traditions very strongly, and we have found our own styles and interpretations inside of these traditions. Personally, I have worked with so many choreographers that their methods have obviously influenced my own movement interpretation. When I started to collaborate with Kaari Martin, I immediately noticed her amazing movement vocabulary that she created with her hands, how she was expressing with her hands. At times, it looked as if she was having the ‘swan hands’; she has a ballet training background, and she is using it. In Spain, for instance, the most well-known flamenco-dancers have a strong ballet training.  When I work together with Kaari, I am probably most impressed by her musicality, the exactness that comes with the musical rhythm, and how she lives in the musical moment. She is definitely as much a musician as she is a dancer.  I wanted to bring this same concept to the ballet world, because we too often focus on the technicality of the dancing. In the end, I believe, that all the dance genres are intermingling and creating fusions in the course of the time, as dancers deploy similar methods and the ways to move.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Since you come from being a well-known principal dancer in a major opera house, the Finnish National Ballet Company, you have a prominent career behind you. Yet, you are facing changes right now, as you are pursuing a free lancer career. I am convinced that the changes you are going through have been coming to you gradually. Where do you see yourself today, and what are the current questions that you have today in your career?

Minna: IT IS EXACTLY HOW YOU SAY IT, THE CHANGE HAS BEEN GRADUAL. IN FACT I AM PROUD OF IT, AS I FEEL I HAVE MYSELF CHOREOGRAPHED THE CHANGE. I STARTED TO CREATE DIFFERENT PRODUCTIONS QUITE EARLY, OR JUST IN TIME. THE EXPERIENCES WITH THE PROJECTS OUTSIDE THE OPERA HOUSE HAVE BEEN SO VALUABLE AND IMPORTANT. ALSO I HAVE COLLABORATED CLOSELY WITH OTHER CHOREOGRAPHERS WITH DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS, WHICH IMMENSELY HELPED ME TO GAIN COURAGE TO WORK WITH MY OWN PROJECTS.

In addition, I started my own firm in 2005, which includes creating dance productions, and lecturing for the business venues, companies and non-profit organizations. I tailor dance performances to these as well, and of course, teach dance courses and workshops. I decided to get training in some relaxation techniques, because I believe that the techniques that work with images and mind are a comprehensive way to take our inner and mental resources into full utilization. Almost by accident, there was suddenly a class called “Minna Tervamäki methods”, which gradually works with our body-placement, making our bodies stronger and more sustainable.

I have tried to be so open as a person that I have basically mixed everything that I have learned during my career. This includes Pilates, ingredients from different yoga traditions, from diverse dance styles,  gyrokinesis and Susan Klein technique. I have learned methods from many physiotherapists, since I have had injuries during my long career. My knowledge includes how to recover from those.  I gained a lot from my training in New York in the past years.

As we all know, the biggest question in our freelancer field is the money. I have so many ideas and creativity, but as everybody in the industry knows, nothing can really happen without thinking seriously how to fund the project. I think that it is more and more the challenge of today; when there are more freelancers and enterpreneurs out there, the money gets tighter too.  What I also reflect sometimes in my mind, is the audience: where does the audience come from? Even when there are so many amazing projects out there, the local audiences here in the greater Helsinki area are still quite limited. We are not a world metropolis like New York.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are your plans and dreams for the future?

Minna: I feel that I am living a wonderful time in my life. My body is still in top condition, and I can enjoy dancing. At the same time, I am finally in the phase of my life, when I have a freedom to choose my own working rhythm, meaning when to work, and who should I collaborate with. I can basically structure my own calendar, after 28 years in a big ballet institution, this is absolutely a welcomed change.  At this moment, I am exited to have my first speaking role as well, I will be the narrator in Kenneth Greve’s new ballet “The Snow Queen”.

Esa Kyyrö
{Minna Tervamäki  as Dying Swan, The Finnish National Ballet. Photo: Esa Kyyrö}

Artist webpages:

Minna Tervamäki: (www.minnatervamaki.com/)

Compañía Kaari Martin: (www.companiakaarimartin.fi)

Talk with Isira Makuloluwe (molecular biologist – come- choreographer)

Isira Makuloluwe is a choreographer living and working in London. He has  just finished a work called 1951 to the music of Czek ’60’s Avant-Garde composer Miloslav Istvan’s 1951 String Quartet for ProART Dance Company. It premiered on 27th July 2012. His first work to pre-existing ‘classical’ music and not made by his long-term composer Jennifer McConachie, it was a new page in the choreographer’s career, entering a phase where the interpretation of music through its theoretical construction and making movement from it has become of great importance to him. The fine line between choreographing to music and re-writing the music (without changing it) via the dancing body has become his focus.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Isira, please, do not laugh; I’m wearing my glasses when I type. Tell me, how can a Molecular Biologist be a choreographer? It taught you awareness. What else? You have been choreographing since 2000, and before that you studied dance with various great dance masters in Europe and United States. Manola Asensio, William Louther, then you finished your studies at Alvin Ailey American Dance Center?

Isira: Don’t worry about the glasses, they suit you and I’m astigmatic!
I actually loved dance since I was a child, listening to music and making up complex (at least I thought so at the time!) group choreographies. I was mainly mad about hip-hop. Movement originality also became one of my obsessions. My ballet teacher is married to my physics teacher and he was the one who roped me into dance. I was told that I was always talking about dance at school and therefore should pursue it – to the disdain of my Sri Lankan immigrant parents. There are many metaphors between molecular biology and dance – spirals, DNA, life and all of those wonderful things that have little to do with my choreographic work. I got a good sense of numeracy from laboratory work; an understanding of the scientific method and writing and the rest of the time was quite bored. I should have studied Asian languages, anthropology or the fine arts – where I belong. But at that time in England, it was all about ‘following your father’s footsteps’ so I pretended I wanted to be a doctor like him until one day I woke up dancing! Manola Asensio gave me a lot of information that was transmitted to her by Rudolph Nureyev (in particular the essence of the Bournonville Classical Technique that he got from Eric Brun). William Louther got me a scholarship to the Alvin Ailey School. He secretly believed in me over his majority black students (in front of whom he was all black power) since I worked harder than everybody in class (mainly because I had to catch up so much) and stayed behind to question him endlessly. He was a genius, sad, dejected and lonely. First black soloist of Martha Graham, and co-founder of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – though many in the organisation would deny it now. (If ever they do – ask them who made ‘Hermit Songs’ for Alvin Ailey and co-created Blues Suite with Dudley Williams as a favour to fill an evening for the emerging Mr Ailey – it was Bill Louther).

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: We dance artists are quite serious people. It is all about the human content, I guess. The body is so social, cultural, affectionate, natural and unnatural at the same time. Your company name Dancetheatremedia describes it to me in a way that dance, theatre and performance are mediating something with real potential between human behaviour and movement. The body is a mediating device, as far as I think of it.  How would you explain it?

Isira: I agree. Nowadays I feel that conventional dance doesn’t have a singular place as before and we have to mix media and develop a new form of dance or theatre art in order to survive culturally. No credible state funding body has any decent money for the arts and even less for dance, so why waste time making small dance pieces when the arts community has so much more to share with us and we with them? Risky maybe, but we need to take risks to make a better and more stable world. With this reasoning, the performing arts are a fatal frontier for the closed-minded still working within the field. There is also so much to do in the area of humanitarian work, education, and corporate entrepreneurship. In Dance or moreover in choreography there are good and bad models for leadership and management. Take the good ones (not necessarily the ones making the most money) and apply them in business. This is one form of mediation. The body has been a form of mediation since prostitution was part of political negotiation! Mediation through movement is an interesting concept. Are also we talking about dance and movement’s use in therapy?

THEORIES

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I also know that you have investigated concepts of reality, alterity and transformation, as well as memory in your works. Then, you have this interest in the language, communication and in games. Tell me about the games in your works? Games are abstractions. It feels that in some sense it is possible to manipulate your viewers, or to convey your perception of the world with your works?

Isira: I love sports like Track and Field, Rugby, Tennis, Soccer, Cricket, among others. Transforming or using games’ rules as a set of choreographic codes was something I worked on in the last decade. TOUCH was born from these ideas in 2007. Language (including dance) is ultimately our only weapon against ignorance and lack of understanding. The more languages we know the better. I speak a number of languages and it still freaks me out when I can’t understand a language in a far off land like China or India. Nonetheless, if you listen closely and long enough, intonations and body gestures can give away a language’s secrets and you can avoid a lot of trouble that way! Spoken words don’t exist without tones or a musical and physical expression of them.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How much do you think choreography also means theoretical designs, or a link to concepts? What is your favourite shape, or colour, or puzzle that organizes your choreographies? Games have space and bodies?

Isira: I’m not sure what you mean about theoretical designs. I have MY OWN THEORIES for making MY OWN DANCES but I would never teach them to anyone else as an absolute truth. I’m one of those people who fail to understand the purpose of MA’s or BA’s in choreography since the term in itself dares to convince students (falsely) that what they learn in some universities is HOW to choreograph. Such a personal, beautifully secret, intimate thing cannot be theorized or taught. But if someone needs to make money from that lie, so be it! I’m not against PhD’s in the analysis of practice as a reason to summarize one’s methods and ideas. But nothing more than that. Answering this question reminds me of the numerous books circulating about famous choreographers with photocopied scribbles and sketches that only they can understand. I do find it a bit ridiculous how we deify choreographers when only their works hold some degree of insight into who they are. And in any case isn’t it more interesting to know the dancers who dance their works? I usually admired them more than choreographers – all those apart from William Forsythe who also is an amazing dancer. My favourite colours (at the moment) are aubergine or pink (but it changes with the year). My favourite shape is spiral, and my favourite puzzle is the unlocking of my childhood memories in my native Sri Lanka.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your idea of where your choreographic practice is at the moment?

Isira: It has shifted a lot since I started making dance. My choreographies are completely influenced by my work as a teacher. Since beginning teaching five years ago I think more about composition and musicality than specific ‘ideas’ that may attract an audience. Like a composer of music, I try to find melodies and asymmetries that character the general harmonics and colour of a new piece. A dancer (usually my wife who is also a vocalist and pianist) helps me a great deal in this research in the studio. I like musical terms since they define dance and how to dance my choreographies. Afterwards, I start by filming a short maquette, which becomes a bigger body of work. The editing process of the dance-video clip becomes important in making choices for the actual work- camera angles, cuts and musical choices as made here.

My practice is also shaped by the global economy and my refusal to deliver a recognizable brand with commercial interest. I can further answer this question by the following observations since describing my work past and present is for the critics and less interesting that showing it to you live!

In recent years I have seen a lot of branding occurring to please promoters and producers (who are the ultimate gate-keepers) and this has led to mediocrity infiltrating the elite ranks of choreography. It has increasingly become a mundane and superficial art form whereas not only a few years ago it was a diverse and engaging one. I feel that nowadays one repeats a ‘winning formula’ that ‘sells tickets’ instead of pushing boundaries. We prefer to tour companies of dead choreographers like Pina Bausch or Merce Cunningham (which fills theatres for nostalgia sake) than to invest in young and talented choreographers. Dance therefore seems to have moved to the graveyard lately. Are we so afraid to look into the unknown and search for the talented unknown as opposed to the tried and tested (which usually means deceased). In that case we must question what is art all over again.

For me, the last great choreographer who irreversibly changed our perception is William Forsythe, who radically changed ballet and contemporary dance while leaving an indelible influence on the art world in general- fortunately he’s still alive! But why no one aspires to reach those heights cannot simply be blamed on the economy- there are few examples of pioneering leadership in our field as most dive for safety in career positions instead of living out their obligations as ARTISTS – and that means taking risks to advance the art of dance.

Also, the ‘conceptual dance’ or ‘non-dance’ movement of the French from 2000-today, while bringing about a radical ‘new way’ of thinking about dance (all stolen blatantly from 1960’s Judson Church and performance art from the US and UK) has made a joke of the art form and made quality dance education almost redundant in Europe. It has become more important to create dancers without technique but cultivate interesting ‘personalities’ in the most important schools. The basics are no longer a priority; hence the dancer therefore graduates neither as an actor nor as a dancer. Who would want to hire a 20-year-old dancer with no technique or experience but possessing an interesting ‘personality’ is beyond me. My company mainly hires dancers over 30 as a rule with strong technique and human baggage. There are exceptions to this rule but they are exceptional human beings at a young age.

I continue to make work in the hope that its singularity will not diminish its market value under the present aesthetic and political conditions imposed by the gatekeepers.  Hence, I try my best to keep making work that interests me, listen to my instincts, not satisfy trends unless I like them, and compose dance with discipline and love for dance and the dancer. I can’t do more than that.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You teach youngsters, and are concerned about what is going on in today’s society, how would you describe this connection?

Isira: The young are the future and yet most countries put them in programmed boxes that limit their creative potential and thus their ability to CHOOSE their direction in life. This added to physical frustrations coming from lack of sports in education or moreover dance in education has (in my opinion) been a factor in the increase of delinquency and religious indoctrination of kids via fundamentalist groups and child crime organisations. In Sri Lanka we have all this nature yet the kids are educated to be big money-makers (doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc) without any harmony or understanding of the blessing that our natural environment provides. The system teaches them, like in India to copy Western models, proven failures, for growth, position in society via clichéd careers, and acquisition of wealth without consideration for the poor. I’m slowly working towards a dance-based program to mobilise children to achieve this harmony via dance and the practice of ecological study and maintenance. Hopefully this will make better and more conscientious students and graduates in Sri Lanka.

LABILE

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I remember the solo Labile that you created for Finnish ballet principal dancer Minna Tervamäki. The solo for Minna premiered at the Finnish National Opera’s Alminsali on 9 December 2005. It was based on Minna’s own experiences from surviving the Tsunami in Thailand’s Khao Lak, in December 2004. You really wanted to translate her experiences of this trauma and event into an intimate choreographic work. The work was reviewed well in Finland, and it was also performed in 2006 at Monaco Dance Forum. You met at the Kuopio International Dance Festival. This is the same festival, where you won the prize for choreography with your French company, VIVID.danse in 2003.

I remember this huge pink plastic bag of bubble wrap that was on stage and Minna just was inside of it, coming out in an astonishing way. It was almost as if an alien was being born, the audience was not sure what was going to happen. And, after that the movements were so different, such virtuosity, with mathematical exactitude. The image was of total vulnerability despite the technicity of the dancing.

 

Isira: The title of the piece was ‘Labile’. Here are the definitions of the word: In chemical and physical terms: labile (adjective) readily undergoing change or breakdown; and in human terms: liable to change; unbalanced or adaptable; ‘an emotionally labile person’-being or thrown out of equilibrium (or balance).

The bubble-wrapped package delivered onstage was a fragile object: the pre-packaged ballerina who then explodes into action despite the pain, fatigue or emotional challenger. Her bursting open from it was a sort of escape from the false sense of protection and perfect image that the Opera House often propagates. My collaboration with Minna was in order to question the falsehood of the Opera Ballet Company per se, where one cannot question or show feelings, as if nothing happens in one’s life.A slave to the dance, slave to the politics of a big house like National Opera Ballet and slave to the choreographic system (evoked recently as a caricature in ’Black Swan’). I was interested in Minna the ’pretty ballerina’ and all the expectations that surrounded her. Her technique was perfect and I simply wanted to challenge it through my movement style like any choreographer would when faced with such a perfect athletic and dancing specimen as she.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: And, on the soundtrack Minna was repeating ’I’m almost there, but not quite yet’. The struggle of ballet-dancer with her mathematical precision and ideal for perfection of movements and the perfect image of the body.

Isira: I noticed she was often saying ’eiku’ in the studio (among other things). In Finnish this means ’no’. It was as if someone was telling her that whatever she was doing was never good enough. I found it amusing and used it as a backdrop for highly technical variations. How would it affect her psychologically? How does the ’negative’ push a dancer to excel? And why the hell do we need such negative thinking in ballet to achieve results? This was what I wanted to question. I felt the title embodied the female dancer’s inner strength and adaptability to manifest other realities than her own at that time – which in Minna’s case was having survived the 2004 Tsunami and returning to work as if all was OK.

{Photos:Dancetheatremedia Limited}

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Jan-Peter Kaiku, a critic from Helsinki-based Hufvudstadsbladet wrote in 11/12/2005 about LABILE. The review speaks about how we received the work. What I find so intriguing is that he compares you to William Forsythe. This does not happen so often. Kaiku wrote:

The solo handled a theme of performance in an improvisational and jagged way. Phrases are repeated only to be quickly turned on their heads. The piece’s minimalism, changing dynamics and powerful pointe work are reminiscent of William Forsythe’s reforms in classical ballet. The plastic packaging, the choice of music and the text provide humorous perspectives to the portrait of a dancer considering her many self-images and the scene situation. These questions create movement and change.

Isira: Any comparison to Forsythe is a great complement though my movement style is very different. I think the critic was comparing the sense of risk and deconstruction of theoretical ideas that perhaps the great man also deals with.

COLLABORATIONS AND IDENTITY

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Then your collaboration with other designers, which is of course so close to my own approach. Media?

Isira: I’m interested in all forms of multi-media though the goal is to purify and often throw everything out. More recently I’ve been more interested on set and lighting design for dance. The key for me is in the music and lighting. Often media and sets can upstage the dance and one loses a sense of meaning. If someone applauds the set and says nothing about the piece or its message, I have failed. Both have to work in harmony and the choreography should still remain the principal object of desire. Often setdesigners forget this.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I love Jennifer McConachie’s music; she is a female composer working on diverse forms. You have collaborated since 2003.

Isira:  Jennifer is a genius. What I like about Jennifer’s work isthat she can easily cross from digital composition to acoustic-classical. It’s rare these days. She is Scottish but lives in Norway. I always insist on ‘open Nordic skies and changing light’ in her music. It opposes the energy and detail of my choreography,leaving breathing space for the dancers to make the piece their own and colour the dance. Recently I also collaborated with François Caffenne for Locked in Vertical, made for Phoenix Dance Theatre (Leeds. UK). This was also the beginning of a new and fruitful relationship between choreographer and composer.  Both know each other. My team is close.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Harrys Picot is your lighting designer. Tell me more how you work together?

Isira: Harrys is also a long-time collaborator. His ability to get under the skin of any choreographer and tailor the lights, transitions and effects to their needs is a unique skill. When we met, he was chief lighting designer of the CNDC d’Angers in the 90’s and 2000’s, he adapted to many guest choreographers. I was astonished with his flexibility. After No Place Like Home for the Geneva Ballet in 2008, he was kept on by the Ballet to continue to make the lights for some future works, all due to his talent and flexibility.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are Sri Lankan, and lived in Europe most of your life, in London, and also few years in Paris, recently moved back to London? Are you a World-citizen or something else? How would you describeyour identity?

Isira: Interesting question and one that I ask myself almost daily. I guess you can call me a world citizen. But moreover I am a world dance citizen. Dance made me learn languages and engage in differentcommunities. Through dance I met my wife. If I had stopped dancing at any time my life would have been very, very different. I was born in Sri Lanka and each day a part of me yearns for the sounds and smells of my country. The smiles of the people are what I miss the most. Europe and the UK occupy a large part of me.  Europe is so diverse and yet so small. It’s a maze and still has the imprint of the World War II and Communism. I’m not astonished all these events happened; I see the need for nations to have borders and identities. Everything in European history has been moving toward union (or occupation in other words) but it always seems to fail. Let’s see what happens next!

(Isira Makuloluwe’s website: Dance Theatre Media)

(Isira Makuloluwe talks about his choreography Locked in Vertical)